Tiffin carrier collector couple planning to begin their own museum

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A husband and spouse from Penang whose hobby is gathering tiffin carriers want to begin a museum in service of its interesting history.

J Prakash, 41, and spouse M Punita, 40, said they have now spent over RM200,000 on their buys from all over Malaysia with more than 200 of the pieces going back to the 1900s.

They have created a book clarifying their collection and the history of the tiffin carrier which is an object familiar to numerous communities.

“We plan to launch our book, ‘Tiffin, The Untold Story’, to celebrate more than 200 years of history and the evolution of the tiffin carrier. After the launch of the book, our next plan is to set up a museum to display our collection and enlighten the younger generation,” he told Bernama.

He said tiffin carriers have sentimental worth, with every family sometime in the past having those that bore the family name or design.

It is said that the tiffin tradition started in India in the 18th century during the British colonial rule and alluded to a light meal. Afterward, it advanced to describe a stuffed lunch delivery service in the nation by tiffin wallahs.

The couple, who earned a place in the Malaysia Book of Records in 2014 for their collection which numbered 192, said they never expected to become collectors until the day they decided to purchase a tiffin carrier to show in their kitchen.

“When we moved to our house in Jalan Samak, Georgetown in 2007, we just wanted some antiques to display in our home, so we bought an enamel tiffin carrier. Who would have thought that would spark a love for it,” he said.

He said his preference for it became after delving into its past and finding that the majority of the ones in his collection are from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, and Austria.

He said before, they were produced using enamel and brass, with the couple’s collection having four-and six-level antique tiffin towers emblazoned with a floral design and Malay wordings like “Slamat Makan” (Please Eat), “Slamat Pakkey” (Please Use), “Slamat Untong” (Happy Prospering), “Slamat Bukka” (Happy Opening) and “Slamat Angkat” (Happy Carrying).

“Tiffin makers were very creative and designed the carrier based on the user’s need. I have a tiffin carrier with a kettle at the top, there’s one with a chopsticks holder and another that can be padlocked,” said Prakash, who works as a Penang Hindu Endowment Board administrative officer, while Punita is a staff nurse at the Penang General Hospital.

One of his top picks is a Baba Nyonya tiffin carrier from Melaka that was extraordinarily ordered from Czechoslovakia in 1930 with a gold-plated top.

“It doesn’t matter whether the tiffin carrier was used by people of high status or common folk, it is a symbol of our cultural heritage where family was held in high regard.

“Imagine how beautiful it is when a family gathers for a meal,” he said as he showed an 8kg metal tiffin carrier with a mini-coal stove that was over a century old.

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